Feeding a Real Food Baby: Counter-Cultural First Foods {Guest Post from Emily at Live Renewed}

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Some of you have been on the edge of your seat since last week, when I first introduced you to Emily’s baby food strategies. I’m thrilled to have her back from Live Renewed today to finish up her thoughts, this time with her real food approach for baby number two. And did you notice we talked baby food during the “Chew Your Food” and “Squash” Monday Mission weeks? Oh yes, I’m nothing if not theme-y!

Be sure to read part one: Feeding a Real Food Baby – Breast is Best, but Then What? and visit Emily at Live Renewed.

A Different Approach to Baby’s First Foods

After my son, Brenden, was born, we were happily nursing right along and I actually dreaded the day that he would start solids. I wanted to hold it off as long as possible. I didn’t want to resort to conventional baby food, but I really didn’t know when I was going to find the time to batch prepare homemade baby food for him, like I had with my daughter. I was already trying to cook more from scratch then I ever had before, and spending more than my share of time in the kitchen. I also didn’t want to give up the freedom of eating my meals with my family by having to sit and spoon feed him at every meal.

real food baby foodBrenden’s 6 month birthday was fast approaching and we knew that he was ready to start trying to eat, because he would let us know at every meal that he wanted some of what we were having. I had read a little bit online about an approach called Baby Led Weaning, or Baby Led Solids, but didn’t know enough about it to really feed comfortable with feeding him in that way. So, we bought a box of rice cereal (which I would no longer recommend now knowing what I know) and started giving him mashed bananas, avocado, or rice cereal at our meals with us.

I did buy a few mesh feeders and started giving Brenden different fruits, bananas, apples, pears, in them for him to feed and explore himself. He LOVED it. He couldn’t get enough. He would eat what was in the feeder and want more. He loved being in control of what he was eating, and I loved that I didn’t have to sit and feed him, that I could either sit him in his high chair while doing other work in the kitchen and he was happily engaged in eating, or I could sit at the dinner table with my family and eat while he fed himself with the feeder. I decided I really needed to look more into this different method of feeding solids foods that I had read about.

I bought the books Baby Led Weaning and Real Food for Mother and Baby, and before I was even half way through either of them, we started feeding Brenden this way. We would simply give him pieces of whatever we were eating that he could have – veggies, meat, fruit, cheese. Again, he LOVED it, and he became the happiest, most content little eater I have ever seen. He loved to sit in his high chair and eat. He loved to explore the foods, tasting and feeling them, testing them out. He tried every different type of food that we gave him, and rarely, if ever, rejected anything.image My hubby was definitely wary at first because he is very afraid of babies and children choking. He was pretty resistant because he thought that Brenden would choke. What we learned though, is that babies have a very good, innate, gag reflex that pushes food from the back of their mouth to the front so they can continue to chew and eat it until they are ready to swallow. The gagging noise sounds like they are choking, but if you watch their mouths, the food is actually not very far back on their tongues, the younger the baby the farther forward in their mouth the gag reflex is triggered.

After they gag they just keep on eating happily, without any signs of distress, almost as if it never happened. Slowly, as my hubby saw the advantages to feeding our son this way, and that he really would be okay and not choke, he got on board with the idea and we have been feeding our son, who is now14 months old, in this way exclusively (in addition to nursing) since he was about 8 month old.

Feeding Baby Real Food

  • Wait until baby is ready. You are their parent and you know best, but don’t try to force a baby to eat just because they are a certain age. They should be able to sit up well on their own. They may have some teeth, or none at all. When we started this method of feeding, Brenden only had 2 teeth on the bottom, and he now only has 6, 4 on the top and 2 on the bottom, and no molars, but he chews and eats pretty much any food just like he has a mouth full of teeth.
  • Give baby some pieces of real food, and let them go at it. They can explore, touch, play with, and maybe even eat some of the food. A good bib is definitely necessary, or eating without a shirt is a great option too. It can definitely be messy, but you know, I found spoon feeding baby food to be pretty messy sometimes too, so I’m not sure it’s any worse.
  • Offer lots of different types of food and let baby decide what he likes and wants to eat. We were surprised that our son loved meat, and would sometimes eat that exclusively at a meal. Also offer foods with different spices and flavors, no need to serve bland baby food, babies want their food to taste good too!
  • The emphasis remains on breastfeeding. Continue to nursing your baby often when you are beginning to feed them solid foods. While baby is exploring food and learning to feed themselves, you can relax in knowing that they are still getting all of the nutrition they need through breast milk. I still nurse my 14 month old son a few times per day because the benefits of breastfeeding are just that important to me.

Advantages of Feeding Baby Real Food

  • Baby eats what you’re eating. No spending extra time preparing special baby foods and meals for baby. This is probably my favorite part about it, I did have to spend any extra time in the kitchen making and preparing batches of baby food for my son.
  • Baby is in control of what they are eating. While it is obviously always important to stay with your baby while they are eating and never leave them unattended, the method of feeding allows baby to feed themselves, so you are free to eat your own meal with them, or even do some kitchen prep while they are happily entertained with their food in their high chair.
  • Less Waste. When you feed baby what you are eating, you don’t need to have jars or containers of baby food that have to be thrown away or recycled later.
  • You can feed baby a variety of foods. There are no hard and fast rules about when you should feed baby certain fruits and vegetables, but some foods like cow’s milk, honey, nuts and others, should be held off until baby is over a year old. This is great in the summer time when fresh and local food is abundant. You can introduce your baby to all of the yummy foods available at your farmer’s market and then can learn to enjoy and appreciate all different kinds of foods from a young age.
  • Babies are more likely to be better eaters as toddlers and young children because they have been exposed to such variety of taste and texture, and been in control of their eating, from such a young age.

I would definitely recommend anyone that has a young baby to try this relaxed and enjoyable, for both baby and parents, way of feeding baby. It has been such a great thing to watch our son eat and enjoy food on his own, our friends and family are often amazed at how well he eats for his age. We will see how he is when he reaches the typical picky eater age, but so far he has shown that he loves to eat, will happily eat all different kinds of foods, and often eats better than his older sister!

There is so much more information about feeding baby real foods that I wish I could share with you here, but this is just our family’s story and what has worked for us. For more information about this method of feeding baby, please read and research for yourself before beginning to feed your baby. I highly recommend the two books I mentioned earlier, Baby Led Weaning and Real Food for Mother and Baby.

Bon Appetit, Baby!

UPDATE: I just came across a post on natural baby care from Cara at Health, Home and Happiness. It addresses options for moms who are struggling or cannot breastfeed.


Emily McClements is passionate about caring for God’s creation while saving money at the same time. She is a blessed wife and mama to two young children, and blogs about her family’s journey toward natural and simple living at Live Renewed.

Photos are from Emily.

Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

28 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Shannon says

    YES! This is what we do and it is amazing. I only have an 8 month old and we started when he was about 6 1/2 months and he has ate almost a little bit of everything. It was scary at first because he could really get some big chunks in his mouth. But he likes everything so far except banana and he loves to feed himself. I’m guessing it’s good for his coordination as well. He likes chunks of watermelon, ground beef, broccoli spears, peas he picks up one by one, thin strips of chicken, cheese, you name. I still feed him unsweetened yogurt and pear sauce since we have a pear tree by a spoon but that’s about it!

    • says

      Yes, things like yogurt and applesauce are a bit tricky. I would still give my son a bowl with his own spoon, starting around 10 months. He obviously couldn’t use the spoon himself, but he didn’t really want me to help him either! Ha! He learned to dip his fingers in and suck them off and that worked pretty well, but it definitely is messy!

      Now, at 15 months he is beginning to use a spoon and fork on his own (but still mostly uses his hands) and I think that is much sooner than his sister learned that skill, because he’s been “practicing” for a long time!

  2. Stephenie says

    Thank you for this post! I used one of those mesh feeders for my baby but I noticed that very quickly it started smelling yucky. Did I do something wrong? He soon would not take it because I think it tasted bad.

    • Kelly says

      Some foods, like bananas or avocados, are not well suited to the mesh feeders. It’s just impossible to get the mesh really clean with foods like that. Fortunately, those types of foods soft enough that you don’t really need the feeder though. You should also plan to soak/wash the mesh in hot soapy water or run it through the dishwasher after every use and you’ll still have to replace them every so often if you use it a lot.

    • Jamie says

      I have those mesh feeders to and I think you need to buy the extra mesh things because they will get dirty quickly. Especially with something like bananas.

    • says

      Hi Stephenie!
      Yeah, the mesh feeders are a little tough to clean. I would usually wash mine out by hand, often using an old toothbrush to scrub along the edge to make sure I got everything out. And then I would put it in the dishwasher in our little basket that holds sippy cup lids, and other stuff like that, just to make sure that it was clean and sanitized. Hope that helps!

  3. Jamie says

    Thanks for this post. We had tried the BLW with our daughter when she was 6 months old, but she didn’t really take to it. So, I decided to spoon feed her instead because I fell to the pressure of society that she should be eating some solids. Now that she is 9 months old I think we will be getting back into BLW. I did stay away from rice cereal though!

  4. says

    Oh… this is so what I had anticipated doing with my daughter. However, because of her sensitivities, there are some things that I will eat (like fish) but I know not to feed her because she reacts to it when I eat a lot. I also am trying to stay strong in not giving her any grains or nuts until she is at least two and has her two year molars in.

    Otherwise though, if there is something that I have on my plate that she can eat safely, the of course she gets little bits off my fork :)

  5. Jassica says

    This is basically what I did with both my little ones. I never bought any baby food, but didn’t make batches at home either. Steamed frozen veggies (peas, carrots, broccoli, etc.) are great finger foods and very convenient. I did try rice cereal a little with my first, but not even a whole box full. It just seemed yucky, pointless, and too much work! One thing I would change if I have another is to NOT give them so many Cheerios and Goldfish. (What was I thinking?)

    I love reading articles like this because it seems common sense to me, but is so counter-cultural.


  6. Jessica More says

    In response to:

    “We will see how he is when he reaches the typical picky eater age, but so far he has shown that he loves to eat, will happily eat all different kinds of foods, and often eats better than his older sister!”

    We did the typical American force-your-6-mo-old to eat off a spoon with my son and then did completely baby-led solids with his younger sister. She didn’t start solids until she was around 9 months and then I just put some of whatever was on my plate (and appropriate for her) on her high chair tray. It was all up to her what she ate and how much.
    Now they are 4 and 2. My son eats almost nothing and my daughter LOVES to eat. really. she eats everything! haha!
    I think it’s healthier for baby and so much easier for mommy!

  7. says

    My little guy has been eating solids since he was about 9 months old. He is now 15 months and not a picky eater at all. Yes things are still a little messy at times but it has made lunch and dinner alot easier to prepare and I am more conscious now about what we eat since the baby eats the same. I always make extra so we all have lunch for the next day-the babysitter gets jealous of his homecooked meals.

  8. says

    Ha, ha! This has a name?? :-)

    With our first baby, we did what “they” told us and tried to food a 4 mo old who couln’t even hold her head up baby cereal! I thought it was silly, but just kept at it. Once we started on real food (not baby pureed), she rebelled. She ahted it. She is to this day a TERRIBLE and picky eater.

    With the second, I decided to wait until he was sitting up on his own and could feed himself. It was probably around 7-8 mos and I just started cutting up whatever we had. He loved it. To this day he is a FANTASTIC eater! The kid will eat anything — salad, brussel sprouts, eggplant parm! I often try to give him a kid version of our food (like his sister gets) and he refuses. He wants what his dad and I are eating! I think it’s because he had food with actual taste in it from the start.

  9. says

    When my daughter started on solids, we skipped the rice cereals, oatmeals, etc. because of a rice intolerance that she had. I did the homemade baby food thing b/c there was so little out there that she could have! However, she didn’t get her first tooth until 14 months which made for a long time of pureeing!

    I love the ideas you talked about … and for all of the reasons that you mentioned! I would LOVE to do this with our son (7.5 mos), but I do worry about the whole choking issue, especially if our son’s teeth come in as late as our daughter’s (still no teeth yet!)…and also if he can’t chew the meats, etc., will he be getting enough nourishment (still nursing of course)?? Any thoughts?

    Thanks for this post. It’s the nudge in the right direction that I need! :-)

    • says

      Hi Erika!
      I think you will be surprised at how well your baby can chew and mash food, even with no teeth. Of course, be sure to stay close to them and watch them, and cut the food into pieces that you feel comfortable with.

      One of my son’s favorite foods from the beginning was meat, even when he just had two bottom front teeth. I think up until they are a year old, nursing is still their primary nourishment and the solids are just for them to explore and try different flavors and textures and learn how to chew. We didn’t worry about how much, or what he was eating, when we first started because he was still nursing, and now we don’t have to worry because he is such a great eater! :) Hope that helps!

  10. says

    Okay, so I read about this in Real Food for Mother and Baby, but this is my burning question: how big of chunks do you cut the food up into? So big that they can’t choke on it, or so little that they can’t choke on it? My newest baby is only a week and a half old, so I have some time, but I would like to feed her this way, and I’m curious to know into what size you cut up the food!

    • says

      Hi Terri!
      That was a big question in my mind too. The Baby Led Weaning book says to cut them in bigger chunks that they can hold and chew on, but can’t choke on, but my hubby was not comfortable with that. So we did smaller chunks that he couldn’t really choke on, but still big enough that he could pick up. I think you need to do what you feel comfortable with and what works for your baby. Definitely take some time to read and research before your little one is read to start solids. I think you will love this way of feeding your baby! Good luck!

  11. Jenni says

    This is what we did with our second-born also. He is now 15 months and still only has 4 teeth (no molars), but he seems to be able to eat everything fine without choking. I cut up his food fairly small, because if I don’t he will spit it out because he can’t get it small enough.

    Now that he’s older (we started him with this at about 7 months), he’s getting a little pickier, but it’s not because he doesn’t like the food, just because he likes having a will of his own. (If I try to feed him something he doesn’t want, he closes his eyes and shakes his head, sometimes saying “no, no, no”). The only downside to this method is that (at this point) he is a bit resistant to letting me feed him something. He wants to do it all himself. I’m sure he will grow out of it after he is more used to other kinds of independence, though.

    Anyway, I have loved being able to feed him whatever we’re eating and not have to make a bunch of extra stuff just for him.

    -Jenni :)

  12. says

    That’s what I did with my two – except I didn’t know it had a special name or books about it. I had a second hand happy baby grinder on the kitchen table and let my youngest try food we were eating. Her first solids at 6 months was barley with chillis – I forgot that I had put chillis in the pot with the barley. She was surprised, but ate it. My youngest’s first solid was raw onion. She just dove for Spanish onions her first year. Now she, like her older sister adores dipping. She snacks on raw fresh tofu, cucumbers and dips – salad dressings, nut butters, raw oils. It’s SO easy to feed a child well this way, I can’t believe how much money or work people have to put into “baby food”. Thanks for your post!

  13. says

    Completely agree with you, Emily. I did this with my baby and today as a toddler, not only does she eat everything that we do, she self-feeds beautifully and is the least picky eater in her playgroup.

  14. says

    That’s what we’ve been doing since our daughter was about 7 months and it just seems natural. She doesn’t like jarred baby foods, she likes REAL food! We’ve never been scared of choking and on several occasions we did notice how she recovers just fine all by herself if some food goes the wrong way :) You just need to be there next to them and relax, that’s the best way to explore food hands on. She is 20 months now, still breastfeeding 3 times a day and eating ALL solid foods. Sure there are things she doesn’t love, but generally she’ll eat anything! :)

  15. shelley says

    This is great information. I just reserved Real food from the library! I can’t wait to read this and incorporate this when the time comes. I’m wondering if you had a post for info on the rice cereal etc. I may have missed it while searching your site.

    Keep up the great work.

    PS.. nice write up in the press. :)


  16. Leah says

    Although I am all for BLW, I just want to point out that pickiness is often a personality trait, not a result of traditional feeding. I did BLW w/ my son, and he is still relatively picky. I still offer him veggies with every meal, but he usually picks them out in favor of bread, fruit and some meats. I’ve gotten to the point where I add spinach and other grated veggies to his pancakes and other bread just so he gets his daily vegetables (I still offer cut up veggies). Just wanted to share my experience– I’m still a proponent of BLW!

  17. says

    Due to a rare blood disorder RH factor problem, both my children were born prematurely. My three year old being two months early. She spent 8 weeks in the NICU. Because of her reflux and other issues I never went the baby food route. I just let her show us when she was ready for certain things. She never like prepared baby foods. Out of necessity and before I learned about a more whole foods approach, I just fixed her whatever my husband and I were having and put it in a little food mill. Later she was ready to self-feed. We always get comments on what a wonderful eater she is. She will try anything and usually eat as much as she needs. My son was born 5 weeks early and at 11 months old he is on the same path as his sister. Mealtimes are a joy even with two little ones. Going out to eat is even just fine. People are amazed as my kids eat salad, veggies, plain yogurt, and just about whatever is placed in front of them. Despite their birth issues they are on target for growth and development. Thanks for your great article~

  18. says

    I’m glad to hear the thoughts (and comments) about the mesh feeders. We didn’t try them at all with our first child, but I like the idea of using them for our second one due in Feb. Life will get much busier with two little ones to feed and I appreciate the idea of reducing waste by not buying the MANY jars of conventional baby food I did the first time around.
    My challenge will be with day care, as it’s hard to share new views about food with caretakers that are so used to a feeding routine.

  19. says

    We fed our baby this way, too. I think it’s weird that it’s not the norm! It’s so easy, both in the moment and in the long run when you have a kid who’s willing to eat most of what you eat.

    We got a food grinder like this one, which let us turn almost anything we were eating into baby food in about two minutes. It’s hand-powered, easy to clean, and hard to cut yourself on, yet it does a great job of grinding food! Things like zucchini skin just stay under the blade, letting the rest go through.

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